Byron Lewis, founder and chairman of UniWorld Group (UWG), one of the oldest Black-owned, advertising agencies in the United States, has retired. Monique L. Nelson, senior vice president of brand integration, will take his place.
Founded in 1969 by Lewis, the agency is headquartered in New York with satellite offices in Detroit and Atlanta. Clients include the New York Daily News, Ford, United Healthcare and AT&T. UWG has a strategic alliance with WPP, one of the world’s largest communications services groups.
With a staff of 108 full-time employees, UWG offers services in branded entertainment, creative development and media buying among other services. Just recently, the agency became involved with the digital and social networking arenas.
Lewis is credited with pioneering the concept of “multicultural advertising” way before his contemporaries popularized it. He leaves his post having brought his dream of making visible the viability of ethnic marketing. African-Americans and other minority groups now represent one of the fastest growing segments of the marketplace. He is also the creator of the nationally syndicated television news program America’s Black Forum and in 1996, he formed the American Black Film Festival.
Nelson, a 2011 Network Journal 40 Under Forty honoree, has 15 years of marketing expertise and came to UWG in 2007 from Motorola. In her new position as CEO, she will oversee the company’s day-to-day operations.
Recently, we spoke briefly to Lewis about the specific business details of the transition. Here’s a snippet of that interview:
TNJ: How did you come to select Monique Nelson to be your successor?
Lewis: It wasn’t about “selecting”. It was a financial matter. Monique and her family proposed the idea to me and I accepted. I did not solicit anyone from my staff. It was not about picking her over other people. I want that to be clear. It was about her financial ability to acquire the 51 percent I owned in the company.
TNJ: So Monique now owns 51 percent while WPP still owns 49 percent?
TNJ: Will you retain any level of involvement in the agency or will Monique assume all of your responsibilities?
Lewis: Monique will be the CEO and I will be chairman emeritus. Over the next two years, I will be involved in different capacities. I will assist in the transition process.
TNJ: Tell me about Monique’s ability to lead the agency and what it means for the industry to have an African-American woman in this position. There are so few African-American women at the helm of agencies of this magnitude.
Lewis: Monique has a solid entrepreneurial background. She’s been here for five years and she is ideally suited for the job. She’s exceptional. There aren’t many African-American women in this position – at least, not in the New York area. Monique will be exceptional.